Police Authority Committee Throw Me Out for Asking for Copy of Papers


Tuesday, December 13th, 2011. 8:07pm



This afternoon I was thrown out of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee meeting.

During the agenda item on restorative justice disposals Deputy Chief Constable Feavyour drew members’ attention to a document he described as the force’s restorative justice policy which he stated was in the meeting papers. Also members of the authority were referring to, and had in their meeting papers, documents describing the force’s restorative justice processes, one member I could see for example had a flow chart describing the process.

I checked, and double checked, the papers which had been provided to me and concluded these papers were omitted from the public documents pack. I had made sure the documents hadn’t been included out of sequence. All the public pack contained was a two page summary report, and I knew this was all that had been made available online prior to the meeting as I had thoroughly read all the papers which had been made available.

I indicated I wanted to say something, making clear I wasn’t seeking to enter into the debate.

The chair, Cllr Lucas, refused, but I didn’t think he understood that wasn’t seeking to enter the debate, so I decided to heckle anyway and simply made the point that the public documents pack only contained the two page covering report and not the additional documents being referred to. I hadn’t got as far as asking if this was the intent, before the meeting was suspended and I was being thrown out.

This left the meeting continuing with no members of the press or public present.

I should explain that I wasn’t disrupting a major set-piece full council meeting, or even a full meeting of the authority. This was a small committee meeting, with about six or so police authority members present (at least one had left by this point).

The kind of response I would have expected would have been for the chair to have asked for copies of the papers to be passed to me, and to order their publication online too.

I view his throwing me out, without the warnings that people to be thrown out of Cambridge City Council or Cambridgeshire County Council meetings typically get, as ludicrously disproportionate and against operating in a transparent and open manner.

I was disappointed that no authority members argued with the chair’s ruling; and none proposed a vote on my exclusion. This however is typical of police authority meetings where the chair alone often rules on, for example, discussing certain agenda items in secret session.

One particularly concerning factor was that Deputy Chief Constable Feavyour joined the chair in asking me to leave. I think this is was inappropriate as the police authority is there to oversee and scrutinise the police. I don’t think the police should play a role in determining who is able to observe and report on the meetings of the authority. The Deputy Chief Constable only added his voice a few moments later, as I was waiting to see if anyone was going to overturn the chair’s bizarre ruling.

It is not unprecedented for members of the press or public to comment on matters of fact during even full police authority meetings; though of course it would be inappropriate to allow them to enter debate.

I think that pointing out the public document pack was apparently deficient was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If this had been at a council meeting there would typically have been council staff available to approach, but at this meeting all the staff were sitting around the meeting table so there was no other reasonable practical way to draw attention to the omission.

If the full meeting papers were not in the public documents pack, or on the website, then the police authority will have breached their own standing orders. (Correction 23:13 13/12/11 – their standing orders aren’t that good – but they do promise to publish the papers!)

At the scrutiny committee’s previous meeting the force’s policies on restorative justice had not been provided and authority members complained. The previous meeting decided to pretend they had been supplied and to publish them retrospectively along with the papers (though this didn’t happen). I had used the public speaking slot at the start of the meeting to express my view that this underhand subterfuge was inappropriate (I recall I used more moderate language).

I think it is really important that the force’s policies on restorative justice disposals are made public; I have been lobbying on this point for some time. I thought it was critically important that the police, and authority members, shouldn’t continue under the impression that they had been released via the scrutiny committee papers when they had not. I also thought that as someone trying to observe, follow along with, and report on, proceedings I ought to have had access to the papers.

The police authority tweeted about my expulsion stating:

Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. Meeting Standing Orders clear on public questions. #policescrutiny #live

I responded to tweet:

RT @PACambs: Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. <-That's libelous. I asked why papers missing from public pack

[My approach to libellous material being written about me is generally to quote and refute it. I note that while I wasn't identified in this tweet, I was identified in an earlier tweet from the authority.].
I also tweeted:

RT @PACambs: Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. <-I simply made the point papers were missing. Politely. Once.

Possible Next Steps

  • I could complain to the police authority about :
    • The chair’s disproportionate action in throwing me out of the meeting
    • The omission of the papers from the public pack
  • I could use the public speaking slot at the next full authority meeting to draw attention to the occurrence; perhaps also connecting it with other failures of openness and transparency in the police authority’s operations.
  • The police authority’s clerk (styled “Chief Executive” to justify the ~£100K/year salary) offered me the omitted papers when escorting me out. What’s important though is not that I get them, but that they’re are officially made public.
  • The chair, Cllr Lucas, is a representative of the County Council, on the authority, I could raise my complaint with the County Council.

At the moment I think raising it in the public speaking slot at the next full authority meeting is the best option. I would hope for an apology at the full authority meeting, from Cllr Lucas and the authority, as well of course for the papers in question to be published.

16 comments/updates on “Police Authority Committee Throw Me Out for Asking for Copy of Papers

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Police Authority standing orders state:

    This procedure does not enable a debate to take place involving the member(s) of the public nor for public participation in other business of the meeting.

    (End of Standing Order 6 – the one on public speaking)

    This is why I made clear I was not seeking to participate before asking for the missing papers.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Standing Order 12(2) states:

    If a member of the public interrupts the meeting or behaves in a disorderly manner the Chairman shall give a warning. If the warning is disregarded, the Chairman may order that the member of the public be removed and may adjourn or suspend the meeting for so long as seems fit.

    I was given no such warning.

    The chair’s actions were therefore contrary to the standing orders.

    This makes me think a complaint to the police authority might be the appropriate course of action.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    While, shockingly, not covered by the Standing Orders, the authority does make a commitment on its website that:

    Agendas, minutes and reports (collectively termed papers) are available in advance of each meeting.

  4. John Lawton

    I suggest that you write to the chairman and copy to the committee members, asking for an apology for being thrown out without the due warning in 12(2), and also to complain about the missing papers. Pretty heavy handed of them I think.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I think that perhaps as I was being ejected the clerk suggested getting in touch with the chair of the police authority. (I now see that might have been pointing me to an appropriate route for complaint / appeal)

    I could tweet the authority asking them to point the chair towards this article.

  6. Cllr Ian Manning

    If this happened as you described it is pretty bad, but I’m afraid it is typical of how the Tory administrations runs lots of meetings (there are noteable exceptions – John Powely is normally good in full council and Shona Johnstone for example).

    Could you not take it up with your local County Councillor?

  7. Cllr Steve Tierney

    >>I’m afraid it is typical of how the Tory administrations runs lots of meetings<<

    -sigh- Is it, Ian? Is it really?

    I’m not really sure what the point was of having a party-political “pop” on this one.

    We could argue about whether Cllr Lucas was right or wrong. I have a great deal of respect for both Cllr Lucas and Richard Taylor but I can’t comment as I wasn’t there. But a chairman has to make a judgement call about situations like this. I don’t think that this generally has much to do with which political party they happen to be a member of!

    My advice Richard, for what its worth, is to let it go. Cllr Lucas isn’t a bad guy, he’s a good guy (as is Ian Manning, actually). I’d chalk this up as a disagreement over protocol.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    The police authority have accepted one of the papers was omitted from the public papers (both online and available at the meeting):

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/cambridgeshire-police-authority-scrutiny-1211.html#omission

    They have now released one of the documents, the restorative justice “standard operating procedure” by making it available at:

    http://www.cambs-pa.gov.uk/user_files/article/RJSOPv1.1.pdf

    Clearly just placing it there isn’t enough, it needs to be linked from somewhere.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    I made a statement, in person, to the full police authority meeting on the 20th of December 2011:

    I was thrown out of police authority scrutiny committee meeting on the 13th of December. I have published my comments on what happened at: http://rtaylor.co.uk/4730
    The committee were discussing the force’s restorative justice disposal policies and procedures. They were referring to documents which the police and committee members referred to as committee papers which were not present either online or in the public documents pack available at the meeting.
    I made clear that I wasn’t seeking to enter debate, (I was aware that is not permitted), and simply pointed out the omission of the papers.
    This resulted in me being thrown out, without any warning (which the standing orders requires to be given).
    A particularly concerning aspect of what happened was the Deputy Chief Constable joining in, in asking me to leave. The authority are obviously happy to allow the police to control access to its meetings as they hold them in police HQ, but I don’t think that’s right.
    Clearly lack of openness is one of the reasons the authority is being disbanded but I think it’s important that it operates as openly as possible for remainder of its time in existence so that the public debates about how policing should be run, which I hope will occur next year, can be well informed.

    The Police Authority secretariat has issued a formal response:

    With reference to the document you refer to the Police Authority has made available on our website (http://www.cambs-pa.gov.uk/user_files/article/RJSOPv1.1.pdf) the Restorative Justice Standard Operating Procedure which was distributed to all members just prior to the meeting for them to read outside the meeting. This document was not part of the pack of papers placed on the PA website and distributed seven days before the meeting. This document was then referred to by the Deputy Chief Constable who read out the relevant section to ensure all those present had access to the relevant information.
    With reference specifically to your eviction from the meeting, Standing Orders 6 and 12 are pertinent.

    Standing Order 6:

    Question(s) from and statements by members of the public shall be included on all committee agendas as a standing item as the next item of business after the approval of the minutes of the last meeting. Members of the public asking a question or making a statement will be allocated a maximum of 3 minutes to do so.

    The purpose of this “open forum‟ is to enable succinct questions or statements to be made within the allowed time limit in the presence of members. This procedure does not enable a debate to take place involving the member of the public nor for public participation in other business of the meeting.

    Standing Order 12 relates to the expulsion of members of the public from meetings.

    Standing Order 12

    If a member of the public interrupts the meeting or behaves in a disorderly manner the Chairman shall give a warning. If the warning is disregarded, the Chairman may order that the member of the public be removed and may adjourn or suspend the meeting for so long as seems fit.

    In the case of a general disturbance by members of the public, the Chairman may order that all or part of the room be cleared.

    We note the following from the blog you have directed us to that you yourself believed what you were doing was “heckling‟:

    “The Chair, Cllr Lucas, refused, but I didn’t think he understood that wasn’t seeking to enter the debate, so I decided to heckle anyway…”

    Cllr Lucas made clear on your first attempt to interject that he would not allow you to speak at that point. When you tried again, he again said he would not allow you to speak. You then said you would “heckle” instead. Following this Cllr Lucas asked you to leave, which you initially refused to do. It was only when you refused to leave that DCC Feavyour reaffirmed that you had been asked to leave by the Chair.
    We value public contribution to our work, but must ensure that the focus of our meetings continues to be the business itself.

    I would contest that I refused to leave; I was obviously very shocked by what had happened, it was completely unexpected and took a moment or two to sink in.

    I also thought that some sense might prevail and the clerk might point the chair to Standing Order 12(2) pointing out he ought first give a warning, or that members might object to the chair’s excessive action. (Police authority members, particularly the unelected ones, aren’t generally the sort of people who speak up though – that I suspect is why they’ve been appointed).

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the full police authority meeting on the 20th of December member Mr Wilkins asked for a copy of the force’s restorative justice policies which still have not been formally provided to any authority meeting.

    It was noted they had been made available on the authority website, but it wasn’t explicitly stated this was only due to my heckle at the Scrutiny Committee meeting.

    The papers are still to be linked permanently from anywhere on the authority site, currently only those who know the link are able to access the papers (the search function on the authority website is non-functional).

  11. John Lawton

    It appears that Cllr Lucas should have responded better then he did. I guess you could have tried to raise a point of order to make clear you weren’t trying to enter the debate.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      When I requested the documents I clearly stated: “I am not seeking to enter debate”, to ensure this was very clear.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    On Thursday the 29th of November 2012 Martin Lucas-Smith heckled Cambridge’s East Area Committee while a planning application on Mickey Flynn’s snooker/pool club on Mill Road was being considered. He asked if a Highways Authority submission which had been tabled at the meeting could be made available to the public. The chair directed the officer to pass copies to interested members of the public present. The document was referred to a number of times during the debate.

    I note this here because this kind of thing is quite usual, and the typical response, is to pass material, if copies are available to the public.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *

*

Powered by WP Hashcash